Atlanta pop-up restaurant Heritage owes its success to chef’s roots

Chef Demetrius Brown prepared fried flatbread topped with marmalade as the sixth course of A Dinner at 29, an eight-course meal for the Heritage Supper Club designed to honor his Trinidadian great-grandmother, Elizabeth Castle. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

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Chef Demetrius Brown prepared fried flatbread topped with marmalade as the sixth course of A Dinner at 29, an eight-course meal for the Heritage Supper Club designed to honor his Trinidadian great-grandmother, Elizabeth Castle. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Demetrius Brown dedicates latest dinner to his great-grandmother’s Caribbean past.

Before we tell you more about up-and-coming chef Demetrius Brown and his popular Atlanta supper club, Heritage, first you need to know about Elizabeth Castle.

Castle is Brown’s paternal great-grandmother, who died in March at age 93. She emigrated from Trinidad to Rhode Island decades ago but never stopped cooking the food of her home country. If ingredients such as callaloo or scotch bonnet peppers were hard to find in her new, adopted home, she grew them in her backyard garden. When other relatives followed her north and bought homes next door to hers, they started gardens, too. An uncle of Brown’s even raised a few chickens.

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In Castle’s kitchen, Brown, who has a twin brother named Darius, watched the three-day process of making roti. He learned to cut up a fresh chicken. And he learned to make callaloo, though he soon discovered he liked neither the taste nor texture of the green native to West Africa and central to the diet in parts of the Caribbean due to the Transatlantic slave trade. But she taught the children the importance of greens in a diet.

“She always made us eat our greens,” Brown said. “She could go pick some vegetables or leaves from the garden, wash them off, leave them in the sink and then we would have to go get them with our dinner.”

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Brown introduced each course of his eight-course Dinner at 29 meal to guests of the Heritage Super Club pop-up held May 1. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Brown introduced each course of his eight-course Dinner at 29 meal to guests of the Heritage Super Club pop-up held May 1. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

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Brown introduced each course of his eight-course Dinner at 29 meal to guests of the Heritage Super Club pop-up held May 1. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

On May 1, Brown honored his great-grandmother with the latest in his supper series. Called A Dinner at 29, it featured the foods Castle cooked from scratch. Brown, who trained at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, not far from where he grew up, lovingly prepared each course. The menu called for, among other dishes, a rice pilaf of carrots, peppers and dried fruit called Christmas rice; the savory, mashed plantain dish, mofongo; and salt fish, which is typically cod cured in salt and rehydrated.

“It’s crazy that the day before my great-grandmother passed, she was talking about what she wants to eat the next day and salt fish is what she wanted,” Brown said. “Mofongo, she only made for us a handful of times, but it was so good. I remember her smashing her pilon, and I’m like, ‘What is she doing?’ But I remember eating that mofongo, and it was one of the top five things she ever made.”

Brown, 27, is a veteran of several Atlanta kitchens, including Fowling Warehouse and The Pinewood. He has competed on the Food Network show, “Alex vs America” (his category was beef). Last year, Atlanta magazine named Heritage the city’s Best Pop-Up. Brown is sous chef at Southern Belle/Georgia Boy, though he aims to someday have his own brick-and-mortar restaurant. That dream is complicated, however, by a rough economy, a labor shortage, as well as the lingering pandemic. But Brown says he’s determined to make it happen.

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The first course of A Dinner at 29 was shortbread cookie served with hibiscus scotch bonnet sorbet. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

The first course of A Dinner at 29 was shortbread cookie served with hibiscus scotch bonnet sorbet.  (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

caption arrowCaption
The first course of A Dinner at 29 was shortbread cookie served with hibiscus scotch bonnet sorbet. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

“The first restaurant is going to be called Heritage, and the second one is going to be called 29 because 29 Bellevue was my great-grandmother’s address.”

Brown left Rhode Island at age 5 when his mother moved the family to metro Atlanta, but he continued to spend summer vacations there, playing with cousins and learning kitchen lessons from Castle, which he’d try out at home. As a single, working mother, Cotia Banson, Brown’s mom, charged all three of her children, including the twins’ sister, to make meals for the family by the time they were in high school. Spaghetti with jarred sauce was not going to do.

“I worked two jobs to take care of them, and I made it so that one day a week, each one of them had to cook a meal, and they couldn’t do burgers and fries,” Banson said. “I wanted a whole meal.”

Brown loved cooking almost immediately, though he wasn’t as proficient in executing his great-grandmother’s recipes back then. By the time he was about to graduate high school, he realized he wanted to become a chef. On a trip back to Rhode Island, a relative suggested he apply to Johnson & Wales, renowned for its culinary program.

On his high school graduation day, Brown learned he’d been admitted to the prestigious university. There he learned classic technique, but none of the classes incorporated the kind of cuisine he grew up eating. After graduation, he tried to blend bits of it into the various cuisines he cooked at a litany of restaurants.

“When I was the chef at Pinewood, we were doing a lot of Asian influenced things, and I would always try to throw in a little bit of the Caribbean flavors, but there was always a disconnect,” Brown said.

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The menu for A Dinner at 29. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

The menu for A Dinner at 29. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

caption arrowCaption
The menu for A Dinner at 29. (CHRIS HUNT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Brown started Heritage Supper Club in Atlanta in 2021 when many restaurants were struggling to survive the pandemic. Once The Pinewood closed, he knew he wanted to focus on the food that was part of his heritage as a young Black man of Caribbean descent. But before he could start his own brick-and-mortar restaurant, he felt he had to show people what he could do with the lessons he learned from his grandmother’s kitchen. Pop-ups seemed the answer. Because he wanted Heritage Supper Club to maintain an underground, exclusive feel, like many young chefs now, Brown turned to social media, particularly Instagram, to promote the dinners. As people came and ate, word of mouth referrals followed. It was popular from the start.

Demetrius has hosted nine pop ups so far, most of them at Condesa Coffee on John Wesley Dobbs Avenue and at Southern Belle restaurant. His mission is to celebrate the food of the Black diaspora, specifically from Africa and the Caribbean. But so many cuisines reside within those countries and the continent, Brown realized he couldn’t just rely on what he learned in the kitchens of Rhode Island. He would have to do deep research on each region he wanted to feature. He would have to test drive recipes he’d never tried before, including, to his surprise, curries. Johnson & Wales taught him skills and classical technique, but it did not focus on the culinary histories of nations populated primarily with Black and brown people.

“When cooking New American dishes, I can sit down and have a menu done in five minutes,” Brown said. “But we have another dinner coming up called A Trip Up the Nile. All those countries are similar, but even the dishes they have in common, like stews and braises, they use different ingredients. That’s been the challenge. The menu for A Trip Up the Nile took literally two months to write. There’s 11 different countries the Nile runs through.”

For the 29 pop-up, he had to rely only on his memory, not to mention skill and confidence.

“I always felt like my career wasn’t taking off like I wanted to, but as soon as I returned back to who I am, once you put your all into it, you start seeing results,” Brown said.

Heritage Supper Club. For details on upcoming dinners and registration, visit heritagesupperclub.com or @heritage.atl on Instagram.

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